Opening more doors for students
Deborah Bracken
December 12, 2016

Experience matters. This is true when it comes to everything from babysitting to applying for your first job out of high school or college. The candidate who already has experience will have the edge.

As the emphasis on college and career-readiness continues to increase, I expect a growing number of schools and districts in the new year will start offering opportunities for students to obtain certifications and gain real-world experience while still in school. I also expect schools to implement technologies that help them manage programs to support students in their acquisition of these skills.

My district, the Community Schools of Frankfort, in Indiana, is a good example. Last year we helped two eighth-grade students obtain their A+ Certification -- a national computer certification. Normally students don’t take this exam until they’re much older; however, we were able to nurture these skills in our students by setting up a student-run help desk to give them real-world experience.

Our program benefits both students and the school system.Students gain experience working with technology. They also gain customer service skills by communicating with their peers and staff as they work through problems. The school system benefits by not having to pay for additional staff to fix equipment.

Creating opportunities

These programs don’t require years of planning and piloting. Our program came about very organically. I had just been hired in the summer of 2015. Two boys asked if the technology department needed any extra help with computers. At first I was reluctant, but I heard that the two boys were really good students and had an interest in technology. I figured the tech department could use extra hands. So we gave them a lab to set up and troubleshoot non-working computers. In two days, they had all the machines ready for classes to use. They had replaced bad hard drives, swapped mother boards, and added/diagnosed memory issues. We realized we were on to something and the students were REALLY proud of the work they had done.

The quality of work and the knowledge it took to complete the work prompted me to think that these boys needed to be challenged. I thought it just might be possible for them to pass the A+ Certification exam at a very young age. In my previous school system, students were given the choice of taking the A+ class when they were juniors and seniors. I asked the representative from Wildcat Creek Cooperative in Lafayette if it was possible to give eighth-graders access to this same curriculum. They said "yes." We gave the boys access to the resources and curriculum for one year. The boys developed their own training plan during after school hours. Within a year, they both passed the two exams to become A+ Certified. Not many students this age would have the dedication and drive to complete the program in a year. I am EXTREMELY proud of them both. One of the boys said "I am more proud of this card (the A+ Certification membership card) than I will be of my driver's license when I get it. Anyone can get a driver's license, but not everyone will pass these exams!"    

Adding technology to help manage computers and 1:1 initiatives

Because we plan to expand our help desk program next year, and in January 2018 our high school will go 1:1, which will mean more than 1,000 students will have access to a computer on the school network, we use software that allows both my staff and our students to provide support remotely which is a key component of providing students with real-world experience.

Helping students and schools

Providing certification training and real-world experience is important for two reasons.

  1. It provides students with an early advantage when they enter the workforce. These eigth-graders (now freshman) have the credentials at 14 that many won't achieve until well into their 20's.This opportunity will open up many more opportunities for these students as they gain more experience and knowledge.When they enter the workforce their experience and certification will give them an edge.
  2. It saves money. Schools typically don't have tons of money to pay for technology staff. By offering opportunities such as the A+ training opportunity, we can train students to repair computers and give them hands-on experience and in turn cut our staffing costs.This will save money for the district and help students gain the real world experience they need.

Looking toward the future

I believe it is important for schools to do as much as possible to support the learning desires of our students. Schools should always look for opportunities to challenge students, help them explore their passions and provide them with real-world experience that helps them grow. Our program does that, and we expect to see more programs of this type in 2017 and beyond.

Deborah Bracken is director of technology for Community Schools of Frankfort in Indiana.The district will implement a 1:1 initiative in 2018. Bracken uses Impero Education Pro software to manage the district’s devices and networks and will expand the district’s student-run help desk program to support the 1:1 project and give students opportunities to develop their skills.